Voices: When will the Met Police take women’s safety seriously?

·4-min read
One of the recorded crimes was, of course, the brutal rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a man serving, at the time of her death, as a Met officer  (Getty)
One of the recorded crimes was, of course, the brutal rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a man serving, at the time of her death, as a Met officer (Getty)

In the early hours of 23 December, as Londoners were waking up and starting their Christmas preparations, a young woman went jogging on Streatham Common.

The city park is an open field with a large children’s playground, flanked to the north and south by large family homes, and along its westernmost edge runs a busy four-lane road, the beginning of the congested artery that links south London to Brighton.

And in that park, on the morning of 23 December, the woman who chose to go jogging was raped by a stranger. A man she didn’t know violated her and fled, leaving her to live the rest of her life with the reverberations of that trauma. At the time of writing, almost two weeks later, the perpetrator is still at large.

The latest figures are yet to be published, but in the year ending in January 2021, more than 18,000 sexual offences, including over 7,000 rapes were reported to the Metropolitan Police. That’s the equivalent of one sexual offence for every 500 people – and it’s also necessary to take into account a reduction in reported offences due to the social impact of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

One of the recorded crimes was, of course, the brutal rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a man serving, at the time of her death, as a Met officer.

Women who have faced such a brutal attack know two things about approaching the police after rape: that they could face what amounts a second personal violation in the process of examining and scrutinising the evidence; and that any arrest, if it occurs, is unlikely to lead to conviction. Any Londoner is also deeply aware that the record of the Met on its treatment of female victims – whether they have been raped or simply physically abused for peacefully protesting the rape and murder of their fellow citizen – is questionable.

As is familiar in many cases of sexual assault, the rape on Streatham Common was not reported by the victim until five days later, on 28 December. No wonder. It takes courage and consideration to seek justice in this climate.

What are the Metropolitan Police doing to support women, to reassure them about the quality of policing and protection they can expect in our capital city? Right now, they’re posting videos on social media of their officers charging around Shoreditch, singling out clubbers for swab tests to see if they’re taking recreational drugs. Why? To “protect women’s safety”. I’m struggling to see the connection, not least because reports suggest only one person was arrested as a result of the exercise: a woman.

The project is a sham, a waste of resources that experts have demonstrated has little efficacy in tackling drug supply, despite the story the Met’s press office attempted to sell to unimpressed followers across its social channels. And I say that, with deep frustration, as someone who has been pilloried for my own (apparently surprising) conservative views on drugs.

For anyone, this pathetic strongman show feels hollow, an exercise in placating the public mood rather than preventing street crime. For London’s women, it says so much more than that. It speaks of a complete ignorance of the anger and insecurity that we feel. It exposes the force, yet again, as obsessed with public reputation, yet totally unwilling to address the central issues that prompt fury among half the capital’s population.

We are not safe. The people paid to keep us safe have been found, many times, to make us more vulnerable. The arbiters of our security, of how we feel about ourselves while conducting our lives in public spaces, do nothing to respond to the roots of our concerns. What women want from police officers and what they are being offered as a policing service are poles apart.

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An appeal has been launched by the Met to help identify and bring to justice the rapist who exploited one woman’s right to exercise alone in a public place for his own violent ends. He may or may not be found. His eventual arrest and prosecution, if it comes (that’s a very loaded “if”), won’t convince women the service is acting on their behalf or in their best interests.

Baroness Casey, who is leading a public review into the standards of policing inside the Met, will need a lot of nerve to break through the steel barrier of bluff the Met keeps putting up. That shouldn’t be too hard for Tony Blair’s former “yob tsar”, who infamously spoke a bit of truth about alcohol and the inner workings of Whitehall in an ill-advised after dinner speech. She paid the price for that, at the time, but it didn’t end her career and she must know how intensely short-changed London’s female taxpayers feel by the police service.

If she’s willing to be as forthright now, there is hope for change. If her review is neutered by the service, the ramifications will be dangerously long-reaching.

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